Alexander Downer — the Australian diplomat whose tip to the FBI about a London pub conversation led to the massive probe of allegations of collusions between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia — is himself closely tied to a Chinese firm experts say is deeply involved in espionage against America.
Just last month, all six top U.S. intelligence bosses warned Americans against using digital telecommunications equipment produced by Chinese smartphone producer Huawei.
“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” FBI Director Chris Wray told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during a Feb. 13, 2018, hearing.
“That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure,” Wray said. “It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
Wray’s warning was seconded by CIA Director Micheal Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Adm. Micheal Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo.
Huawei was also the subject of cybersecurity warnings issued in a 2012 report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Downer is an especially odd choice as an FBI source, given Wray’s warnings about the Chinese firm, because Downer joined the board of directors of Huawei’s Australian subsidiary in June 2011, according to The Australian newspaper.
Not long after joining the board, Downer was a visible advocate on behalf of the Chinese firm in the Australian press, warning, for example, in April 2012 that his country should be wary about “transmitting a message that somehow we are paranoid about Chinese investment.”
In a separate interview at the time, Downer said, “This sort of whole concept of Huawei being involved in cyberwarfare, presumably that would just be based on the fact that the company comes from China. This is just completely absurd.”
Downer’s comments followed a government decision to ban the Chinese company from bidding on contracts for work on Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).
The Huawei Australia website no longer lists Downer as a member of the board, but his appointment reportedly was renewed at least once. William Plummer, Huawei’s Washington spokesman, responded to a LifeZette request for additional information to say that Downer left the Huawei Australia board four years ago.
LifeZette detailed Downer’s connection to the Clinton Foundation in posts published January 16 and January 19.
Downer, who is now Australia’s ambassador to Great Britain in London, told FBI officials of a conversation he had with then-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in a London bar in 2016, in which the latter claimed the Russians had damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The FBI’s probe of the Trump-Russia collusion allegations was launched shortly thereafter.
LifeZette detailed Downer’s connection to the Clinton Foundation in posts published January 16 and January 19. He was a key factor in the Australian government’s $25 million grant to the Clinton Foundation for anti-HIV/AIDs activities, which a subsequent audit could not document as having been completed.
The Hill reported Monday that Congress was never told by the FBI about Downer’s tip.
(photo credit, homepage image: The Hon. Alexander Downer, Australian High Commissioner, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Northern Ireland Executive; photo credit, article image: Alexander Downer, United Nations Special Envoy to Cyprus, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Richter Frank-Jurgen)